June, 2020, Burlington, Vermont – On Tuesday June 9 in Burlington, 45 Vermont Labor Unions and allied organizations answered the call issued by AFSCME Local 1343 to picket for job security and a New Deal economic recovery. In a powerful display of progressive Labor unity AFSCME City workers, led by Local President Damion Gilbert and Vice President Jesse Greeno, insisted that the Mayor guarantee that workers and public services come first during these hard times. 1343 further urged the City Council to support a charter change to allow for a wealth tax on the richest residents to better fund public services, and that if cuts need to be made that they come from Police Department equipment & brass and by way of cutting high paid political appointee positions.
Assembled Union members gathered at the Department of Public Works building on Pine Street at 3:30pm; the parking lot across from DPW quickly being filled to capacity. There picketers heard powerful speeches from AFSCME 1343 Vice President Jesse Greeno, John Davy of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, Ben Luce of AFT/VSCS Thrive, Progressive State Representatives Selene Colburn (a member of AFT) & Brian Cina (a member of AFSCME), and Ashley Smith of DSA (a member of UAW Local 1981). The speakers, in addition to stating support for 1343 City workers, called on all Vermont Unions to provide mutual aid when facing attacks (and not only focus on their narrow self interests), demanded a New Deal economic recovery effort, and affirmed Labor’s unqualified solidarity with Black Lives Matter & the related Longshoreman strike which shutdown U.S. ports.
Following the speeches, the 100+ vehicle picket caravan, led by Union members on motorcycles from AFSCME 1343, 1674, & 490, headed downtown. Circling the City Hall block, Union members leaned on their horns to make sure the Mayor heard the sound of Labor unity in the Queen’s City.
The caravan ended at the top of the Marketplace Parking Garage where Dwight Brown, AFSCME’s Chapter Chair for Burlington School units, kicked off a new lineup of Speakers. Dwight, who is also a District Vice President of the Vermont AFL-CIO, called on the Burlington School Board to come to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair new contract (something they have thus far refused to do). Brown further asserted that the Union fight for economic justice cannot be divorced from the fight for racial justice and declared Vermont Labor’s solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the demonstrations going on throughout the county right now following the murder of George Floyd.
Following Brown, speakers included VT AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen, Mike Leonard of the NEA, Rosie of Migrant Justice, Helen Scott of United Academics/AFT (also a District Vice President of the VT AFL-CIO), Andy Decelles of UE Local 203, Burlington Progressive City Councilors lead by Zoraya Hightower, and Liz Medina of UAW Local 2322 (also a District Vice President of the VT AFL-CIO). Medina’s, in fiery tones, called for a Union based Green New Deal to put America back to work and for the nationalization of key industries.
A theme that ran through all the speeches was that an attack on one must be understood as an attack on all, and that Organized Labor needs to be unified in its struggle to see through a Union based New Deal economic recovery effort. All participating Unions also confirmed solidarity with Local 1343 City workers.
Closing out this powerful display of progressive inter-Union solidarity was AFSCME Local 1343 President Damion Gilbert. Gilbert, a City worker himself, congratulated his members for a successful picket, and thanked the many allied Unions/organizations that sent a delegation to the picket. Damion concluded by again affirming that 1343 will be there for other Unions when they need support, and challenged Union leaders to do more to fight against racial discrimination.
The picket was endorsed by: Vermont AFL-CIO, Green Mountain Central Labor Council, AFSCME Local 1343 (Burlington City/Chittenden County), AFSCME Local 490 (Bennington County), AFSCME Local 1201 (Rutland & Addison County), AFSCME Local 1369 (Washington County), AFSCME Local 1674 (Howard Center), AFSCME Local 2413 (Northeast Kingdom), AFSCME Local 3797 (Windsor County), AFSCME Local 3977 (Lamoille County Mental Health), AFSCME Local 4802 (Home Healthcare Providers), American Federation of Teachers-VT, United Academics/AFT at UVM, VSCFF/AFT LOCAL 3180, Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, IATSE Local 919, UFCW Local 1459, UAW Local 2322, NWU/UAW-VT Local 1891, APWU-VT, APWU Local 520, Teamsters Local 597, Vermont NEA, Orange Southwest Education Association, VT NEA Staff Union (VT-NSO), UNAP Local 5086, UNAP Local 5087, SEIU Local 200United, Vermont State Employees Association, UE Local 203, Migrant Justice, VSCS Thrive, The Vermont Workers Center, Rights And Democracy, UVM Union of Students, 350-Burlington, Bread & Roses Collective, Champlain Valley DSA, Central Vermont DSA, Upper Valley DSA, Burlington Progressives, Vermont Progressive Party, VT House Progressive Party Caucus, VT General Assembly Workers Caucus, Vermont Lt Governor David Zuckerman-Progressive.